- The Washington Times - Friday, May 28, 2004

If you think there is a limit to how much childishness there is among Californians, you may want to reconsider — especially for Californians in academic communities.

Recently a mountain lion was discovered up in a tree in Palo Alto, a residential community adjacent to Stanford University. This was at about the time of day when a nearby school was getting ready to let out. There had already been a horse found mauled by some animal on Stanford land, and some thought a mountain lion might have done it.

Fearing the mountain lion might find one of the local school children a tempting target, the police shot and killed the animal. Outrage against the police erupted up and down the San Francisco Peninsula and as far off as Marin County, on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge, more than 30 miles away.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported it thus: “The police agency has been flooded with outraged calls and e-mails from people inflamed by TV news videotape of the lion lolling peacefully in a tree just before an officer shot it to death with a high-powered rifle.”

Yes, the mountain lion was sitting peacefully. That is what cats do before they pounce — usually very swiftly.

Second-guessers always have easy alternatives. One protester against “the murdering of such a beautiful creature” said it “easily could have been removed from the premises and relocated” and that the “dirty bloodthirsty bastards” who killed it should be ashamed of themselves.

The protester offered no helpful hints on how one “easily” removes a mountain lion from a tree — and certainly did not volunteer to demonstrate how to do so the next time the police find one up a tree in a residential neighborhood.

Animal rights advocates said police could have given the lion “a chance” by trying to tranquilize it while it was up in the tree, and save shooting as a last resort if it turned aggressive.

A makeshift shrine has been erected where the mountain lion died. Flowers, cards and photos have been placed around it. This is an academic community where indignation is a way of life. Those engaged in moral exhibitionism have no time for mundane realities.

The police, of course, have to deal with mundane realities all the time. Not long before this episode, the police tried to capture three mountain lion cubs by shooting them with tranquilizers, missing one cub two out of three tries.

What if the police had shot a tranquilizer gun at the adult mountain lion in the tree and missed? Would they have had a chance to get off a second shot at a swiftly moving target before it pounced on one of the hundreds of children soon to be leaving school nearby?

Moral exhibitionists never make allowance for the police missing, whether with tranquilizers shot at mountain lions or bullets fired at a criminal. The perpetually indignant forever wonder why it took so many shots.

It would never occur to people with academic degrees and professorships that they are both ignorant and incompetent in vast areas of human life, much less that they should bear that in mind before venting emotions and waxing self-righteous.

Degrees show the possessor has knowledge in some special area. Too often they embolden people to pontificate on a wide range of other subjects on which they don’t know what they are talking about.

That academics are overwhelmingly on the political left is perfectly consistent with their assumption third parties — especially those like themselves — should control the decisions of other people who have firsthand knowledge and experience.

The cops probably haven’t read Chaucer and don’t know what existentialism is. But they may know what danger is.

Some Palo Alto parents of small children living near where the mountain lion was killed said the police did the right thing. There are still some pockets of sanity, even in Palo Alto.

Thomas Sowell is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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